Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
Advertisement - Guide continues below
Angelina Grimké (1805–1879) was an abolitionist and feminist activist famous for her path-breaking speaking tour of 1837 to 1838.
Born in South Carolina into a prominent slave-owning family, Grimké moved to Philadelphia in 1839, shortly after becoming a Quaker. Uncomfortable with slavery from an early age, she enlisted in the abolitionist movement in 1835 by writing a letter to William Lloyd Garrison, which he printed in the Liberator. As a Southern woman and the daughter of a slave-owning judge, Grimké provided the recently formed American Anti-Slavery Society with a headline-grabbing new member.
In December 1836, Grimké embarked on a speaking tour organized by the AASS throughout New York and New England. Originally, her talks were intended for women audiences only, but she drew increasingly large numbers of men listeners as well. Traditionalists condemned Grimké's speaking before "promiscuous audiences" prompting some within the antislavery movement to urge Grimké to abandon her efforts.
In response, Grimké wrote a series of essays on the right of women to speak in public and, within her talks, began comparing the oppression of slaves to the oppression of women.
By May 1838, Grimké was speaking before audiences of several thousand. She was also asked to appear before a committee of the Massachusetts state legislature—the first such invitation extended to a woman. But plagued by periodic bouts with depression, Grimké retired immediately upon marrying abolitionist leader Theodore Weld on May 14th, 1838.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was a leader of the 19th-century women's movement, an organizer of the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, and an early advocate of female suffrage.
Born into an affluent family (her father was a judge), she was educated at Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary. She was introduced into reform largely through her maternal cousin Gerrit Smith. In his home, she met Henry Stanton, an abolitionist and field agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society, whom she married in 1840.
Accompanying her husband to the 1840 World's Antislavery Convention in London, she witnessed the sponsoring society's refusal to seat female delegates from the United States. As a result, she and Lucretia Mott, one of the excluded delegates, discussed the need for a convention that would address the challenges facing women in contemporary society.
In 1848, Cady Stanton and Mott were among the principal planners of the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Cady Stanton drafted the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled closely after the Declaration of Independence, asserting the "self-evident" truth that "all men and women were created equal." The delegates also adopted 11 resolutions, including one declaring it "the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise."blank">Civil War, she joined abolitionists and feminists in founding the American Equal Rights Association, dedicated to winning the vote for Black men and all women. Disappointed by the narrow framing and interpretation of the 14th and 15th Amendments, she helped found the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1878, Stanton drafted the language for a constitutional amendment extending the vote to women. The amendment was introduced into Congress in every session until finally adopted and ratified in 1920.
Alice Paul (1885–1977) was instrumental in securing women's right to vote under the 19th Amendment and drafted the Equal Rights Amendment. Born in New Jersey, Paul's social philosophy was shaped by her Hicksite Quaker upbringing. She graduated from Swarthmore with a degree in biology in 1905. Over the course of her life, she also earned a master's degree in sociology, a Ph.D. in economics, and three law degrees.
While studying in England in 1908, Paul was introduced to the militant tactics of British suffragettes Emmeline and Christable Pankhurst. When Paul returned to the United States in 1910, her more militant approach led her to break with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, and to found the National Woman's Party in 1916. The NWP picketed the White House for over a year, pressuring President Woodrow Wilson to back women's suffrage.
After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Paul remained active in the Women's Rights Movement. She drafted the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in Congress in 1923, helped found the World Women's Party, which lobbied successfully for the creation of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and was instrumental in securing a gender discrimination provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Betty Friedan (1921–2006) wrote The Feminine Mystique, launching the modern Women's Rights Movement, and was the founding president of the National Organization for Women. Born in Illinois, Friedan graduated from Smith College in 1942 and studied psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. After college, she worked as a writer and editor before marrying and starting a family in 1947.
In 1963, Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. Based on her own experiences and interviews with others, the book explored the discontent plaguing many middle-class women. In 1966, Friedan was a key figure in the founding of the National Organization for Women and was elected its first president. During her tenure as president (1966–1970), NOW scored several victories in its battle against gender discrimination in the workplace, including convincing President Johnson to prohibit federal contractors from practicing gender discrimination and pressuring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to ban sex-segregated job ads.
Many feminists criticized the relatively moderate agenda advanced by Friedan. Some were critical of her initial reluctance to embrace lesbian rights as a women's issue. Others argued that she ignored the needs of poor, non-white, and unskilled working women.
In later years, Friedan directed her energies toward other issues, in particular, aging. In 1993, she published The Fountain of Age, challenging yet another series of cultural stereotypes.
Phyllis Schlafly (1924–2016) was a conservative activist best known for her opposition to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s. Born in St. Louis, she graduated from Washington University in 1944, earned a master's degree from Radcliffe in 1945, and a law degree from Washington University in 1978. In 1952 and 1970, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
Schlafly's 1972 article "What's Wrong with 'Equal Rights' for Women" launched her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. She argued that the ERA would force women into the military, jeopardize benefits under Social Security, and weaken existing legal protections under divorce and marriage laws. She further argued that America's Judeo-Christian heritage paid homage to women's God-given maternal role and, as a result, women were "the most privileged" of "all the classes of people who ever lived." American women enjoyed "the most rights and rewards, and the fewest duties."
Gloria Steinem (1934–) knew how to push buttons. As a journalist, an activist, and one of the most famous feminists of all time, she worked—and continues to work—tirelessly for women's rights.
Steinem got her first big break as a freelance writer when Esquire magazine commissioned her to do a piece on the birth-control pill. This article, published a year before Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, helped set the stage for one of the most important social movements in American history, women's liberation.
As the one of the faces of the women's movement, Steinem did something that many feminists, including Friedan, never managed to do: she appealed to the general population. She appeared in the major magazines of the time, spoke at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, and was the first woman ever invited to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Trust us, it was a very prestigious honor.
She used her broad appeal to affect change. Steinem campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, continued to publish massively influential articles, and helped found Ms. magazine (the first magazine to be owned, operated, and written by women). The articles strayed away from the traditional classics, fashion and food, and instead trended toward the political. It was a major step forward.
She also founded the Women's Action Alliance and the National Women's Political Caucus. Have you ever taken your daughter to your job or been the child who gets to see what your parents do all day? Thank Gloria Steinem, who started Take Our Daughters to Work Day.